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Walking on the Great Wall of China is one of the coolest adventures you can have. Not only is it one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, but it also a fantastic place to blend history, culture and adventure into one.
There are a number of ways to visit the Great Wall of China from Beijing. You can do it on a day trip or independently. These trips simply visit the wall and you will find your time-limited.
You will also be stuck with the option of only visiting one section. It is also possible to book single day hikes too. This will allow more exploration and a chance to see a bigger section of the wall.
Alternatively, and the best option, is to book a multi-day, multi-section hike on the wall. This will give you the best overview of the Great Wall of China and a chance to explore sections that have been both restored and left to nature.
Walking the Great Wall of China
After our day started in Beijing, we made a stop at the Olympic Park and then headed north of Beijing and into the countryside towards the Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China.
We would be spending the next 3 days on the wall with Great Wall Hiking.
Walking the Great Wall of China: Jiankou to Mutianyu
This section of the wall is one of the most rustic areas of the wall because it is in its original state. There has been no restoration or reconstruction, so visiting this section gives you a chance to see the wall in a beautiful historic state.
One of the most beautiful aspects of this wall section is the surrounding landscape. The wall here is literally built on, up and over the mountains in the area.
This makes for some of the most stunning views in China with the extreme contrasts between the green foliage, tall trees, blue sky and brown hue from the Great Wall of China.
Jiankou is not open to general tourism and you cannot visit by using local transport. Our arriving here consisted of pulling into a local farmers village and then hiking for 1 hour through cornfields, forest, and tall grass before reaching the Great Wall.
We used it to set the pace for the day as the last 30 minutes are spent walking uphill on narrow, ungroomed paths.
Upon reaching the wall we paused for a moment to take in the site. You really can’t grasp the size of the wall in photos, so when you first arrive it can be overwhelming.
The wall powers up above the trees and grass at the bottom where we arrived on the trail. A local man, that has made a living from charging people to use his ladder, dropped a small ladder from the top.
~Touching the wall for the first time on our hike~
Our guide paid our admission and we all climb onto the wall. At this moment we were blown away by the landscape that stretched out before us. The wall moved and stretched with the land that made it hard to spot from a distance. The only noticeable distinction between it and the landscape is its brown color.
Regrouping we entered the nearest tower and got a good look at our track for the day through a decaying and overgrown section of the wall. Already 1.5 hours into our hike, we started off on the wall towards the Mutianyu section.
The hiking path for our first day included hiking for 5 hours and covering 10km. The whole track is nothing short of challenging because hiking on the Great Wall isn’t just a long walk, but a physical endeavor and you climb the mountains and hills that the wall crawls over.
Despite seeing many photos of a smoggy covered wall, we had lucked out with clear skies. Halfway through the hike, we did have some rain clouds move in, but it was refreshing and welcome as it moved many more clouds through and opened the sky to bright blue for the second half of our hike.
I can’t stress enough how lucky we were to have beautiful weather when 2 days prior we were sightseeing in Beijing and the smog was so thick we couldn’t see farther than one or two blocks ahead of us.
~Overgrown path on the Jiankou Great Wall~
The best part of this hiking section is when Jiankou moves into the Mutianyu section. We first noticed the change when people started to appear in the distance on the Wall.
Shortly after we noticed the people, we started to notice the slow transformation of the wall. It slowly turns from ruins to beautiful restoration right before your eyes.
Unlike Jiankou, the Mutianyu section is open to tourists and is a section that is frequently visited as a day trip from Beijing. The closer we got to the end of the hike the more people we saw, including a variety of Western tourists and locals.
Encountering the crowds really made us appreciate the time we spent hiking Jiankou. Getting off the wall at Mutianyu took us into a tourist park where we noticed several shops where you can find souvenirs, bathrooms, information, and restaurants.
Not even a long day of hiking could make us appreciate the commercialism; we would much prefer to exit into a farmer’s village-like we started.
~The beginning of Mutianyu~
~Resorted section at Mutianyu~
Our day ended with a drive to the Simatai farmers village, where we stayed in a farmer’s guesthouse to rest and relax before our second day of hiking on the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall of China.
Walking the Great Wall of China: Gubeikou to Jinshanling
Despite the fact that our alarm was sounding at 6am, waking up this morning brought an overwhelming sense of accomplishment to us both. We had already completed one full day of hiking the Great Wall of China from Jiankou to Mutianyu, with 10kms in the books.
We quickly dressed and made our way to the lobby for a quick breakfast before hopping in the van and heading to the next hiking section for the day. Our hike today would the longest and toughest route of the 3 days, starting at Gubeikou and ending at Jinshanling.
Much like Jiankou, Gubeikou is another unrestored section of the wall and although they share this trait, there is nothing similar about them.
Where Jiankou moves up and down mountains and literally has trees growing on the wall, Gubeikou runs a slightly flatter track and due to being constructed with different materials, a whole different feel.
~Gubeikou Great Wall~
~Looking out over the Gubeikou Section~
The top of the wall in this section is also growing vegetation, but it is much tamer. Straight down the middle of the wall is a tamped hiking trail the ebbs and flows and the wall makes its way through the countryside.
Many of the watchtowers on this section are decaying and in ruins and as you pass them they whisper their history to you.
In terms of weather, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. We had a slight breeze at our backs and the brightest blue skies we have seen since New Zealand. We had clear visibility in all directions and no hint of smog, fog or rain in sight.
We knew this was incredible luck as we have heard the horror stories and seen the photos of people’s visits to the wall being ruined by smog and poor weather. We couldn’t believe our luck, two days in a row of clear blue skies and perfect visibility.
Halfway through the hike, we encountered a section that is maintained by the army, thus meaning we were not allowed to pass this section. This detour took us off the wall and into the jungles that surround the wall.
This section of the hike takes two hours and led us through some of the most beautiful forests and hidden farm crops we have ever seen.
Occasionally we would pass through areas with abandoned farmhouses that prompted us into many great discussions with our guide about the history of the area and the Great Wall of China itself.
Getting back on the wall was extremely rewarding, as even though it isn’t easy to hike, the jungle trek was challenging and humid. Being back on the wall in the open air was a relief for us all and we marched happily towards our end goal with a brilliant breeze at our backs.
The transformation from Gubeikou to Jinshanling went almost identical to the day before with Jiankou to Mutianyu. The wall slowly transformed before our eyes from ruins to restored and the people became visible in the distance again.
Like Mutianyu, Jinshanling is another section that is open to the public and many people make the trip from Beijing to this section for a visit.
The crowds were much heavier on this section and we weaved through the crowds to the exit point from the wall and into the tourist park. It was 1:30 pm and we already had 6.5 hours of hiking on the books. We were famished and happy to visit one of the restaurants that served up a traditional Chinese meal.
~Last part of Gubeikou~
~View of Jinshanling Section~
We were thankful for an early finish as the China summer heat was in full swing that day and as we left the restaurant we welcomed the air-conditioned comfort of the van on our return to the Simatai farmers village where we would spend the rest of our day relaxing and resting for our third day of hiking.
Walking the Great Wall of China: Jinshanling to Simatai
Considering our good weather luck, we decided that our trip to the Great Wall would not be complete without catching a sunrise. The prospect of viewing the sunrise up over the mountains and illuminate the Great Wall of China was something I had always wanted to witness.
Despite the early finish we had on day 2, 4 AM came really quick and our bodies were finally feeling the work from the first two days of hiking. We crawled out of bed, packed up our stuff and headed out to the van for our final day with Great Wall Hiking.
The van ride was short and we arrived at a deserted tourist park. It was soon apparent that we wouldn’t be entering the wall through the conventional entrance used by the tourists, we would be detouring off into the woods and hiking off to the side to enter the wall at the Jinshanling Sifang Terrace.
This hiking detour lasted around 40 minutes before we were standing next to the wall and then climbing up onto the tower to set up camp for viewing the sunrise and eating breakfast.
Our guide had prepared and packed us a brilliant breakfast, who can say they’ve had breakfast on the Great Wall of China while watching the sunrise?
The day didn’t disappoint us and put on a brilliant show of light with bright, clear skies and after watching the sunrise we headed off to complete the duration of our third hiking day at Jinshanling.
This section of the wall is probably the second most visited behind the Badaling section that is near Beijing. That is mostly in part to the beauty of the restoration in this section.
It is completely restored to give you a complete feel for what it was like on the wall during its glory days.
Of all the sections, this is the most photographed part and if you happen to be flipping through a travel magazine or a book that talks about the Great Wall of China, chances are you are looking at photos of Jinshanling.
This made for a more crowded hike than the previous two days as many other people were visiting this section of the wall that morning.
Don’t get me wrong; even though we saw other people during the entire duration of the hike, it was far from crowded as we hiked from the busiest part at the tourist park towards a different area.
Despite it being a restored section, with good footing, it was one of the more challenging areas of the wall to hike. There are many inclines in this section that are very steep and even with good footing, this section is very tiring to pass through.
However, the steep inclines were rewarded when you reached the top and turned around looking out over the area you just climbed and then out into the great wide open where the wall continued to crawl across the countryside.
When we finally reached our ending point, which is the Jinshanling tower on the highest peak, it was hard not to be reflective. We just spent three days hiking on one of man’s greatest creations on Earth.
We had three days of amazing weather and intense muscle burn and even more gripping photo opportunities.
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5 thoughts on “Walking the Great Wall of China: Best Routes & Tips”
I love rustic travels! You see so much more of what the world is really like for those who live/lived there.
Yeap. Mutianyu was beautiful!
Mutianyu is great!! One of my favorite section of the wall.
What a way to see the great wall! We don’t have China on our route, but some day!
Hiking is hands down the best way to see the wall. China is interesting… definitely have to WANT to visit here otherwise it can/would be quite overwhelming. 🙂